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Plagued by Bad Shepherds? Persevere!

Persevere in what you have: prayer, study, the care of others, penance, all the means of grace you can obtain

Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2021

Woe to the shepherds
who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture,
says the Lord.
Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel,
against the shepherds who shepherd my people:
You have scattered my sheep and driven them away.
You have not cared for them,
but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.

—Jer. 23:1-2

Sheep are helpless animals. They have no protection against predators. They must be protected and led, or they will be slaughtered and eaten.

In spiritual combat, the struggle for eternal salvation, we human beings are like helpless sheep. To recover and remain in grace is beyond the powers of our nature, as is the gift of grace itself. If we are not mightily helped and protected, we are no match for our spiritual enemies and our own weakness of will. And so the Savior provided us in his holy Church with Sacred Scripture and the holy sacraments, to be administered to us by shepherds of our souls in their preaching and in their priestly worship on our behalf.

That is why the words of the holy prophet Jeremiah in the lesson above are a horrible prophecy about the most horrible of things. There is nothing worse for human beings than to be deprived of what is necessary for life and happiness by those whose duty it is to provide for them. To be deprived of right teaching and sacramental grace is the worst of things. To be the reason for this deprivation is the worst of sins. It would seem to be a sin without a remedy, at least for the sheep who have been scattered and then slaughtered by the wolves. The evil shepherd seems to be a thing so evil as to be beyond comprehension.

What are we to do if we find ourselves and others threatened by the negligence and malice of bad shepherds? I mean those who teach false doctrine about the moral life, scoff at holy things, show impatience and disdain for numerous families, and frequent penitents, corrupt divine worship, and refuse correction, not to mention things unmentionable. What is to be done?

First and foremost, do not let their sin cause you to sin. In other words, do not give in to scandal. Keep the faith. Do not lose hope in the gifts of God because another would deprive you of them. If you are spiritually alive enough to notice the evil, then you also know what is good. So study the Faith, say your prayers, make spiritual communions, offer sacrifices, and teach others to do so. Persevere until deliverance comes, and since evil has reached even the sanctuary, do not expect that after one novena, everything will be all right. Persevere means over the long haul, and not giving in to the excuse “I prayed and prayed, but my prayers were not answered.” No! God used your prayers for some hidden good for some soul who needs help even more than you do. Your relief will come in due time, as more and more cry out to the Lord. Carry on with all the aspects of the Christian life over which you do have control.

For the prophet to Israel continues:

I myself will gather the remnant of my flock
from all the lands to which I have driven them
and bring them back to their meadow;
there they shall increase and multiply.
I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them
so that they need no longer fear and tremble;
and none shall be missing, says the Lord (vv. 3-4)

Jesus is, after all, the Good Shepherd, and as he laments over and threatens the bad shepherds, he promises his sheep help and deliverance in due time. In the Gospel lesson we read:

He . . . saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things (Mark 6:34).

And after teaching, he fed them, five thousand men with their families, by a miracle foreshadowing the Blessed Sacrament.

The spiritual wisdom he will teach you and the nourishment of soul he will feed you by your perseverance are proofs of his care. He may be a Good Shepherd you cannot see, but his care and the protection of his kind angels are certain. His care is as sure as his word, which he tells us does not pass away, even should heaven and earth pass away.

Persevere, then, in what you have: prayer, study, the care of others, penance, all the means of grace you can obtain on your own, and you will find that whatever bad shepherds you may endure of any rank or dignity, you will be guided by the heart moved with pity—yes, even the Sacred Heart, whom St. Peter the first pope and first shepherd calls “the shepherd and guardian of our souls.”

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